Tori Amos

Mar 1, 2003 12:00 PM, by Mark Frink

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In support of her first album on Epic Records, Scarlet's Walk, Tori Amos completed a whirlwind tour of North America, playing 31 shows in only six weeks. All sound reinforcement was provided by SSE Hire Limited of Birmingham, England, including the main speaker system, a Nexo Geo line array. Mix had the opportunity to catch the show inside the 2,000-capacity Chiles Center on the University of Portland's campus, a multipurpose room used mainly for basketball with a wooden salad-bowl roof and predictably poor acoustics.

120 DEGREES

Nominated for a TEC Award last year, each Geo speaker module is a small 32-pound, 16-ohm enclosure, employing a 1.8kHz passive crossover for its 8-inch Neodymium woofer and a 1-inch driver on a unique bent horn whose geometry creates a common virtual point source.

Carrying four-dozen Nexo S805 Geo 5° modules on the tour, SSE system tech and crew chief Mike Rose deploys arrays that are 18 cabinets deep with a single 30° Geo S830 downfill beneath. Six CD12 subwoofers hang just behind the line array from a bumper-bar extension. The 80-pound subs house two slot-loaded 6-ohm 12-inch Neodymium woofers, each powered by separately processed channels of amplification to provide 120° hypercardioid coverage.

SSE's custom road cases allow Rose to leave the Geos connected in banks of four: They hold two sets in the 45-inch-long cases, with one set face-down in the tray, and the next set in a second tray that fits over the first. The CD-12 subs simply drop onto a 24×30-inch dolly to roll onto the truck in a stack. The system is powered by CAMCO “Vortex 4” switch-mode, Class-H amplifiers, with four 16-ohm Geos per channel. Each side of the P.A. is powered by only five amps: three for the Geos and two for the CD-12 subs.

Rose uses Nexo's proprietary line array-design software, GeoSoft, to calculate vertical angles for even coverage throughout the venue. The software accepts values for array height, number of cabinets, listening-area size and slope to provide optimal vertical-splay angles and predict SPL at octave intervals from 500 to 8k Hz. An Angle Star digital inclinometer's sensor is remotely mounted on the Geo's fly-bar so that Rose can precisely set the rake of the line array with the front and back motors.

FRONT AND CENTER

FOH engineer Mark Hawley has worked with Amos since 1994, with SSE providing equipment all along. Prior to that, he worked with Beautiful South, Big Country, and Wet, Wet, Wet. While many engineers have a close relationship with their artist, Hawley has not only engineered both Amos' recordings and live shows over the past eight years, but they've been husband and wife since 1998. He mixes on a Midas XL3 with a 16-channel sidecar, which he calls the best-sounding live console ever made, even preferring it to the XL4. “It's the nearest thing to a Neve in live consoles that I've heard,” he adds. “It's a shame they don't make them anymore.”

They use Neumann KMS 150 vocal mics at both singing positions, which Hawley prefers to the 105. He employs a substantial vocal-processing chain, which begins with a Focusrite ISA 430 “Producer Pack” used for EQ and light compression, and ends with a BSS 901 dynamic equalizer for frequency-specific compression. On this tour, he began using a Manley “Variable Mu” as a limiter in between those two. “I used the Manley on the vocal in the studio,” he explains. “It certainly colors the vocal, warming it up considerably. And when she really goes for it, it takes the edge off.”

For vocal effects, Hawley relies on his old standby, the Lexicon 480L, with one machine used as a vocal reverb set to a heavily modified Fat Plate preset, and the second side used sparingly with settings from its effects bank, like Illusion and Sudden Slap. He also has a 960 used as a vocal delay. All three of these effects are ducked by keying stereo compressors inserted on their returns with her dry vocal, an effective technique that keeps the vocal clear and distinct while emphasizing reverb tails. He uses a Yamaha SPX-990 on preset number 60, Bass Chorus, to fatten up the vocal, which he likes better than other types of doubling pitch-shifters.

PRESENTING A CLASSIC

Amos sits at the piano facing the monitor mix position on stage left, listening to a stereo mix for her vocal, with a second stereo pair of wedges for drums and bass. Directly behind her is a Fender Rhodes with an apple-red Wurlitzer on top — played by swinging around on her piano bench — and both have a Drawmer 1960 inserted on their direct channels. Offstage, behind monitor world, is a Leslie cabinet miked with a Beta 52 and a pair of 57s. On “Can't See New York,” the Rhodes is bused from the monitor desk like an effect, a technique first employed with her piano on the song “Horses” from the Boys for Pele album and tour.

Classically trained Amos plays her personal 9-foot Bosendorfer concert grand with its lid open on the tall stick. Hawley mikes it with three AKG C414 mics — low strings and high strings, plus a third over the large sound hole in the harp — and inserts the Focusrite Red 2 and 3 for EQ and compression. He comments that there is so little isolation from neighboring sound sources and that he is forced to supplement these with a digital tone module driven from the Bosendorfer's MIDI system. They currently use a Roland RD-150 digital piano that sounds natural and also doubles as a portable instrument that can be carried to her daily promotional appearances at radio stations.

Drummer Matt Chamberlain's kick drum is miked with a Shure Beta 52 on an internal mount. A second lower-tuned kick drum, which also lacks a hole in its front head, is miked with an AKG C-414. Rack and floor toms are miked with Shure Beta 98s, and there's a 57 for the single conga to his left.

This year, Hawley is using a 414 on the snare, which he switched over to from the Neumann KM 140 used beneath it and also on high-hat. “Generally, when we finish an album, anything we really enjoyed we try to take on the road with us,” he comments. The most remarkable approach on the kit is the AKG C-12 overheads. Hawley uses the time-honored method of spacing them equidistant from the snare drum, but in this case, one C-12 is directly over the snare, while the other is at a 45° angle, near the ride cymbal.

Hawley employs outboard processing on nearly every channel. Both kick drums use a Drawmer DS-201, while the snare uses a TL Audio EQ-2 parametric tube EQ plus a Focusrite Red 3 compressor, whose other channel is used on the main kick. Drawmer gates are also used on the toms and conga, as well as the send to the second 960 machine used for drum reverb with a plate setting.

Jon Evans plays bass through David Eden cabinets, and Hawley uses Avalon tube DIs to take the direct signal out of the back of the SWR head, supplemented with a direct feed from an effect pedal that is occasionally used.

PRISTINE MONITORING

Dutchman Benny Veenestra is covering monitor chores for Hawley's longtime partner Marcel van Limbeek; he's assisted onstage by SSE's Andy Yates. Monitor world sports another Midas XL3 with a sidecar and uses at least as much outboard processing as FOH. Inserts include a Focusrite/Tube-Tech/BSS vocal chain, a GML/Manley piano chain and a Drawmer 1960 on overheads. Monitor effects include two more SPX-990s, a PCM-91, an Eventide Eclipse, a pair of TC M-3000s, plus another 480L for Amos' vocal reverbs.

SSE provides a 48-channel active BSS splitter rack with a dozen channels of Focusrite Red 1 preamps used on the “money” channels. Floor monitors are SSE's proprietary 12PM monitors using KT 9848 crossovers, EQ'd with TC 1128 graphics and again powered by CAMCO Vortex 4 amps. Next to the split is the Pro Tools recording rack, housing a half-dozen Apogee AD-8000 converters and an Apple G4 in a Marathon PowerRack. If the musicians are not available for soundcheck, then the previous night's tracks can be played back through the P.A.


Mark Frink is Mix's sound reinforcement editor.

Portraits of Tori Amos onstage, by Steve Jennings


Photo by Steve Jennings


Photo by Steve Jennings


Photo by Steve Jennings






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